Presented on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Historic Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus.
Obsession is frequently an overlooked focus of major literary works. In novels like Moby Dick, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Aspern Papers, The Great Gatsby, and many others, characters are often driven to extremes by their various obsessions over various objects or concerns. But sometimes obsession infiltrates the author's audience as well. One manifestation of this is when a reader's relation to and obsession with a famous author leads to a powerful yearning to collect: a desire to gather and accumulate almost anything ever owned or scribbled by the celebrity author. One theme of my own novel The Hemingway Files is just this desire: in particular, a wealthy collector intent on purchasing Hemingway manuscripts and Twain letters. Such obsessive collecting is not unusual among bibliophiles. But why do we collect? How does one begin the long journey of any sort of collecting? And what are the pros and cons of obsessive connection to iconic writers like Hemingway and Mark Twain? This lecture will consider how we get drawn into such compulsive relations with these long dead writers and other celebrities: including my own lengthy journey into the heart of Mark Twain studies, and into the composition of my novel, The Hemingway Files.
Hal K. Bush is professor of English at Saint Louis University and author of six books, including Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age (2007) and Lincoln in His Own Time (2012). he has most recently completed Continuing Bonds with the Dead: Parental Grief and Nineteenth Century Authors (2016). He is lead editor of The Mark Twain-Joseph Twichell Correspondence (2017) and of Above the American Renaissance: David Reynolds and the Spiritual Imagination in American Literary Studies, which will appear in 2018. His first novel, titled The Hemingway Files, was published in summer of 2017. He is presently at work on a study of spirituality and American literature and culture, titled Spiritual Blink!